Originally posted on Global Voices:
Argentinian native and Spanish citizen Martin Varsavsky writes on his Spanish blog [ES]: “[Technorati founder, David Sifry] showed me what he is really going to do and how he is going to launch it. And I suggested a modification that he liked a lot, but that it will take a couple days. So I suppose that the service will come out on Friday. On my English blog I didn’t post it (although it is easy to translate, there is a linguistic barrier between the two blogs), but here I’m going to talk about it at least a little. It’s an improvement to Technorati that resembles Meneame and Wikipedia.”
But before Varsavsky got to spill his secret news, Steve Rubel of Micropersuasion showed a screenshot of the new feature that, get this, was to be called “WTF” or, so they say, “Where’s the Fire.” As it so happens, Steve Rubel is the senior vice president of Edelman, the world’s largest independent PR firm and he is helping form a partnership between Technorati and Edelman. According to his posting, however: “I spotted this with my own two eyes and didn’t get advance notice.” From Rubel’s blog, the news drifted around the tech echo chamber including Michael Arrington’s widely read TechCrunch. Arrington, like many, notes that the new feature, which had been live at technorati.com/wtf is no longer available, which leads Juan Luis of Technorantes to assume [ES] that the good people of Technorati are looking for a better name than WTF. Moral of the story? Pre-release leaks make for good publicity.
But there is another moral to the story and that is that web2.0 companies like Technorati are getting very good about choosing who they are friends with; that is, people who can make a lot of buzz online. I am reminded of another story which also involved Martin Varsavsky – his use of American “alpha-bloggers” to stir buzz about his company FON and help market it as a social activism movement rather than the for-profit and heavily patented company it is. I blogged about Varsavsky’s strategy here and two days later Rebecca Buckman wrote a similar article in the Wall Street Journal. Not surprisingly, my post inspired little reaction (other than Ethan’s thoughtful post and added disclosure policy), but Buckman’s article generated a storm. Most of the blog reaction is summed up by this post on Valleywag:
The Wall Street Journal tries to build a scandal from a few blog posts. Some Fon advisors wrote good things about the company, all of them mentioning their advisory roles. Where the hell is the scandal?
I don’t think that either my post or Buckman’s article suggested that there was any scandal, but rather we observed a PR paradigm shift in which web2.0 entrepreneurs promise stock options (as Varsavsky did to the US advisory board) to popular bloggers as a way to get them to write about the company. As commenter “openwag” writes:
The real story is that blogging’s A-list (A for advisor!) is in denial that they’re being solicited and compensated for their position as opinion leaders, not for their domain expertise.
Martin Varsavsky is probably the most aggressive of entrepreneurs in how he uses his weblog as a tool to promote his company. But I am sure he is also beginning to understand the backlash of bad publicity that can come from shady web behavior. When Varsavsky claimed the support of the internet service provider Speakeasy, the truth of the matter got much more attention than his original post. And, though Ejovi Nuwere’s posts about his departure from FON offered more questions than answers, it is pretty clear that Varsavsky’s promises and charm ran short in the end.
FON already has a product for sale, but they are far from going public as a company, which is why Ethan Zuckerman’s disclosure statement reads, “I serve on the advisory boards for several ventures, for and not-for profit. These include the US and Africa advisory boards for FON, a wireless technology company, which has promised (though not delivered) a small number of stock options in the company.” Unlike the first two months of the alpha-blogging advisory board, those big name bloggers now hardly ever mention FON. Perhaps their interests have changed. Perhaps they don’t want to be associated with a company whose online reputation has soured. Maybe they no longer think they’ll get stock options or maybe they won’t even want to accept them if they are offered. Whatever the reasons may be, up-and-coming popular bloggers should think out the consequences of forming an alliance with charming executives and entrepreneurs.